Centaurs on the Silk Road

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  • Volume 6, Number 2 (Winter/Spring 2009)


    Silk RoadCONTENTS

    From the editors desktop ........................................................................ 2

    Korea and the Silk Roads, by Staffan Rosn .......................................... 3

    Alexander the Great and the Emergence of the Silk Road, by Yang Juping .............................................................................. 15

    Centaurs on the Silk Road: Recent Discoveries of Hellenistic Textiles in Western China, by Robert A. Jones ...................................................... 23

    Dialogue Among the Civilizations: the Origin of the Three Guardian Deities Images in Cave 285, Mogao Grottoes, by Zhang Yuanlin ..... 33

    Eighteen Songs of a Nomad Flute: Possible Religious Symbolism within the Late-Song Paintings, by Lauren Arnold .............................................. 49

    Shrine Pilgrimage among the Uighurs, by Rahil Dawut ........................... 56

    Cover photo: The golden crown from the northern mound of Tomb 98 in Kyngju. Collection of the National Museum of Korea, Seoul. Photo 2008 Daniel C. Waugh.

    The Silk Road is a semi-annual publication of the Silkroad Foundation supplied in a limited print run to li-braries. We cannot accept individual subscriptions. Each issue can be viewed and downloaded at: . Please feel free to contact us with any questions or con-tributions. General guidelines for contributors may be found in Vol. 2, No. 1 (June 2004) on the website.

    The Silkroad Foundation Editor: Daniel C. Waugh 14510 Big Basin Way # 269 dwaugh@u.washington.eduSaratoga, CA 95070

    2009 Silkroad Foundation 2009 by authors of individual articles and holders of copyright, as specified, to individual images.

    The Bridge between Eastern and Western Cultures

  • From the editors desktop

    This is the eleventh issue (of the twelve published) of this journal for which I have had editorial responsibility. I trust readers will agree that we have made a lot of progress in providing a publication of some substance and of interest to a broad audience, in keeping with the Silkroad Foundations commitment to public educa-tion about the history and cultures of Eurasia.

    An important part of our goal here is to make available information that may not otherwise be readily accessible. Clearly even specialists still have a difficult time accessing materials published in other countries and languages. I am particularly proud of our success in publishing the work of scholars whose writing otherwise might be inaccessible to an English-speaking audience of non-specialists. This is-sue of the journal offers several examples. Such articles are valuable not only for the specific information they contain but also for what they tell us about different emphases in scholarship, where the concerns of the authors and their audiences at home may often be different from those of readers in other countries. Those steeped in traditional European appreciation of the Hellenistic world might, for example, find Professor Yang Jupings emphasis on Alexander familiar, but in a tra-dition of scholarship where often the Silk Road has been viewed through an East Asian lens, his is a different approach. There is much in this issue which should be new to students of the Silk Roads, from the intriguing and important questions concerning the Korean connection raised by Professor Staffan Rosn to the pro-vocative hypotheses about the historic origins of Islamic mazar practices in Profes-sor Rahil Dawuts beautifully illustrated article.

    The success of the journal depends on a continuing flow of stimulating and well-researched contributions. The next issue, to appear in autumn, will include articles on current directions in textile research, on the Tahilt excavations in Mongolia in 2008 co-sponsored by the Silkroad Foundation, and on an important ongoing proj-ect to document the Buddhist sites in Mongolia. Starting in 2010, the journal will appear as an annual, somewhat larger in size than an individual issue of the current semi-annual publication.

    I have formatted the issue you have before you using software (Adobe InDesign CS4 ) which has the virtue of making it easy to reproduce non-Roman characters, something which is critically important for rendering terms and proper names in Chinese. I trust that this upgrade of the digital editing tools has not generated sig-nificant error, even though there is always a steep learning curve in computer mat-ters. There are many options here for continuing to improve the journals appear-ance and better accomodate authors wishes and readers expectations. A detailed style sheet for contributors should soon be available on the Silkroad Foundations Internet pages containing the electronic version of this journal.

    Please send your contributions and suggestions to:

    Daniel Waugh, EditorProfessor EmeritusUniversity of Washington (Seattle)dwaugh@u.washington.edu


  • KOREA AND THE SILK ROADSStaffan RosnStockholm University, Sweden

    In 1926 the then Crown Prince of Sweden and noted archaeologist Gustav Adolf (later King Gustav VI Adolf, 1882-1973), on the invitation by the Japanese authorities, visited Korea and the excavation of one of the royal tombs in Kyngju , the capital of the for-mer Silla kingdom [Fig. 1]. There was the expectation that the tomb, later to be named Sbong chong The Tomb of the Aus-picious (= Swedish) Phoenix in honor of its royal visitor, would yield a spectacular golden crown of a type similar to the one found by the Japanese archaeologists five years earlier in connection with the very first excavation of a Kyngju royal tomb, the so called Kmgwan chong The Tomb of the Golden Crown. Indeed the royal party was lucky, and as antici-pated could witness the excavation of a splen-did and exquisitely made golden crown with a stylized tree rising in front of the headband and a representation of antlers on each side [Fig. 2]. The whole construction was studded with

    leaves of thin gold sheet and comma-shaped jade pendants. This type of crown, of which several more were to be excavated from the tombs in Kyngju, for a considerable time was considered unique to the Korean peninsula and to a large extent came to be used as a sym-bol of Korea and indigenous Korean culture (Choe 1992; Kim 1998).

    While the crown embodied both religious and secular sym-bolism, only gradually did the obvious connection between the Silla gold crowns and their North Asian/Siberian shaman-istic parallels come to be rec-ognized. The Silla crowns in-deed seemed to indicate that the former monarchs of this kingdom must have fulfilled the double role of shaman and king, at least from the 5th century on. Further evidence to this effect was provided by other paraphernalia found in the royal tombs, especially the golden belts, which all reflect a CentralNorth Asian nomadic

    Fig. 1. HRH Crown Prince Gustav Adolf of Sweden (front left) during the excavation of the Sbong chong tomb in Kyngju 1926. Photo National Mu-seum of Korea. Published with permission.

    Fig. 2. The golden crown from the northern mound of Tomb 98 in Kyngju. Photo 2008 Daniel C. Waugh.

    3The Silk Road 6/2 (2009): 3-14 2009 by the Silkroad Foundation, the author, and the holders of rights to the illustrations.

  • model with a clear religious, shamanistic func-tion [Fig. 3]. In comparison to their nomadic parallels both the crowns and the belts from Silla represent a kind of aristocratized sha-manism, in the sense that the the Silla objects were made of pure gold and in an exquisite technique, while the Central and North Asian objects normally were of simpler construction.1

    However, it would be a mistake to treat the de-sign and style of the Silla crowns as only an indigenous redesigning of a simpler Central and North Asian model. Rather, the development of the specific Silla features of these crowns was the result of Silla from the 4th century be-ing integrated into a culturalreligious sphere connected with Central and Northeast Asia. The technique of constructing a crown by add-ing upright trees and studding it with round or oval thin golden leaves attached to the crown by means of thin gold thread was used before the 4th century as far west as the old Kingdom of Bactria. A spectacular find of a golden crown (and many other golden objects) at Tillya Tepe in present day north-eastern Afghanistan made by the Russian archaeologist Victor Sarianidi in 1978, revealed a technique and craftsmanship strongly resembling those of the Silla crowns

    [Fig. 4].2 Especially striking in this connec-tion is the technique of attaching small gold leaves to the crown in a manner that is almost identical to the one found on the Korean pen-insula. The golden objects at Tillya Tepe have been identified as belonging to the 1st century CE, and are also believed to have been locally made (Cambon 2006). From a stylistic point of view the Tillya Tepe objects reveal obvious influences not only from the Graeco-Hellenistic side, but also from the Scythian and more east-ern Scythoid3 cultures in the north, as well as features from China in the Far East and India in the south.

    The striking parallels between the crowns from Bactria and Silla have led to far reaching specu-lations about early BactrianKorean connec-tions during the first four centuries CE. In her magisterial work on the technical lineage of the Silla crowns, Yi Songnan argues for a Bactrian origin under heavy Greek influence on the tech-nique and style of this kind of crown. According to Yi this technique and style spread via com-mercial contacts to the Xianbei and further via Kogury to Silla. The dating of the relevant artefacts so far found strongly speaks in favour of Yis argumentation (Yi 2005). Pierre Cambon confidently suggests that the relations between Tillia Tepe and Korean art in the Three

    Fig. 3. Detail of Royal belt from the northern mound of Tomb 98 in Kyngju. Photo 2008 Daniel C. Waugh.

    Fig. 4. The crown from Tillya Tepe, tomb 6. Second quarter of 1st c. CE. After: photograph Thierry Ollivier/Muse Guimet, first published in Cambon 2006, p. 206, and reproduced as .


  • Kingdoms period (1st7th centuries CE) demonstrate that there is a connection, but not via China, before the Tang period (Cam-bon 2006, p. 109). Be that as it may, at least it seems safe to state that the Bac-trian and the Silla crowns, in spite of some obvious differ-ences (the Bactrian crown is collapsable and lacks the comma-shaped pendants and antlers), nevertheless share a number of features (the tree of life, birds in the tree, the golden leaves) important enough to permit us to treat them as belong-ing to a common CentralNortheast Asian cultural sphere with clear nomadic traditions. It stretches from Bactria eastwards through the old Xiongnu and Xianbei areas and reaches the Kogury and Silla states on the Korean peninsula. During the first half of the 1st millennium CE many art ob-jects of this vast area show a complex picture involving a number of common techniques such as filigree, the type of leaves just mentioned, as well as a number of common features of ritual symbolism (like the tree and the birds) to be connected mainly with shamanism (Yi 2005). The exact nature of these BactrianKorean connections remains unclear, although existing differences and chronology strongly seem to argue for a movement of ideas and techniques from west to east.

    The XianbeiKogurySilla cultural com-plex

    The shamanistic symbolism is stronger in the eastern XianbeiKogurySilla group than in the Bactrian material. The stylized tree pattern or the so-called tree of life, ingeniously com-bined with the antler pattern, is represented in the material of this eastern group through a unique genre of objects excavated in present day Inner Mongolia, showing a deer head with antlers equipped with leaves of the Silla-type [Fig. 5]. In this way the upper part of the deer head fulfils the unusual double function of ant-ler and tree. The exact function of these gold-en objects is not quite clear, but their religious

    symbolism is evident, and expressed in an artistically economic and minimalistic way, which is truly remark-able.4 Although so far this type of object has not been detected on the Korean pen-insula or its immediately ad-jacent areas, there can be no doubt of the existence of an intellectualartistic con-nection between these Xian-bei deer heads and the Silla golden crowns. Chronologi-cally they are close in time, since the golden deer heads excavated in Inner Mongolia

    have been dated to the 5th century CE. It is es-sential to note that this genre is represented by several finds outside of the former Korean Three Kingdoms area.

    The commashaped pendants (kogok ; Jap. magatama), which profusely adorn especially the Silla crowns, constitute another clear indi-cation of the close connection between Silla and the northern cultures. They are also found on the earpendants and necklaces from the same archaeological context as the crowns. The ex-act origin and meaning of these objects have been hotly debated, but much seems to speak for the interpretation that they represent an animal claw (bear or tiger?) in its function as a totemic symbol. Such commashaped objects and decorative elements are well-known from the Scythoid burials in Noyon uul and Pazyryk (Rudenko 1960), and consequently go back to at least the 5th century BCE, i.e. almost a mil-lennium before they appear on the Korean pen-insula. At any rate, the commashaped pen-dants constitute another tangible evidence of the longstanding existence of the northsouth axis in the North AsianPeninsular cultural flow during the millennium here under discussion.

    In this connection it is important to remember that the construction of the Silla crowns does have parallels of much later date and of simpler making in eastern Siberia, pointing to a long-standing shamanistic tradition in this vast area.

    Fig. 5. A Deer-tree from Inner Mongolia, excavated in Darhan Mumingan Banner, Ulanqab League. 3rd-5th century. After China 2005.


  • Indeed, the Siberian shaman crowns very well might be late material representations of a very long local, and not necessarily aristo-cratic, tradition obviously going back to at least the 4th5th centuries CE (Kim 1998). It is reasonable to assume that it in fact is consid-erably older than that. The Scythoid tombs at e.g., Noyon uul, normally considered remnants of Xiongnu culture, which in its turn was heavily influenced by earlier and more western trans-formations of older Scythian artistic features, also have yielded several objects with shaman-istic associations. From the kurgans at Pazyryk ca. 5th3rd centuries BCE the Russian archae-ologists excavated the now famous deermask, obviously used to turn a horse into a religiously more important deer [Fig. 6]. Hence, this deermask, the commashaped decorative elements from Noyon...